Acting governor Abel Maldonado stands tall in the San Bruno gas line fire tragedy. Filling in for Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger who is on an Asian tour generating business for the Golden State, Maldonado has taken over the controls of the California ship and proved a hands-on leader directing resources to the sight of the crisis. Importantly, he is available to explain to the people suffering from the crisis and the public at large what the government knows and what it is doing.
Over the years, many observers of California government have suggested that the state constitution be changed to keep power with the elected governor, even when he or she is out of state. The argument goes that with modern communication systems, a governor traveling far away would still be informed and aware of any situation and the traveling governor can still direct the bureaucracy to respond in a crisis.
However, it is clear from the current crisis that some one on the ground has a better understanding of on-going problems and possible solutions to confront them. Maldonado has proven that.
This is not a discussion of whether the position of Lt. Governor should exist at all. That debate is for another time. The question is should the executive power of the state rest with someone who is actually in the state.
The issue of having leadership on the ground during a horrific crisis came up during the Cold War period, when concerns of a nuclear attack could wipe out the leadership of California.
In 1959, the legislature passed and Governor Pat Brown signed a law that would allow for the governor to appoint, with legislative concurrence, seven stand-in governors. These back-up governors would be from different regions of the state and if catastrophe struck, the hope was someone would be around to lead.
While this law is still on the books, it was never implemented to my knowledge.
As Maldonado proved over the last few days, having the executive power close to the problem is a good policy.